A favorite skill that I teach my clients is called square breathing. It helps to stop anxiety in its tracks. As Susan talked about getting a negative evaluation from her boss, her breathing became shallow, her face pale, her hands started to fidget. I calmly demonstrated taking a deep breath slowly to the count of 4, holding it for 4 counts, exhaling slowly for 4 counts, and holding your breath out for 4 counts. That is one cycle. After doing it for five cycles, Susan had calmed down and could focus. She felt confident in her ability to soothe herself.
The mechanics of the breathing cycle explains why it works. When we get anxious, we hold our breath and/or breathe shallowly. Our body starts sending us messages that it needs more oxygen: clammy hands, pounding heart, butterflies in our stomach, etc. By taking a deep breath, we give our body what it needs to function properly, Square breathing is effective in any situation that comes up:
1. When you get in a social situation, freeze up, your heart rate sky rockets, and you can’t talk.
2. When you’re driving down the street and have a panic attack, and you don’t know why.
3. When you get negative feedback from an employer or friend.
4. When you awake in the night after a nightmare.
Once you can breathe easily again, we can start figuring out what’s underneath your fear and how to change it so you can have a life worth living.